Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back in the Saddle

I've really been remiss in my posting. I do apologize for that. It's hard to keep up on everything. Especially on days when I'm just not in the mood. I do tend to be a bit moody. Just part of my chemical make up I guess. But it's been a rather crazy couple of weeks what with my birthday and Thanksgiving and all. I had a good birthday. It was nice to be with friends, and to have a chance to leave the country and check out Germany, a place I've really always wanted to visit. So here are some shots of our day in Deutschland:

It was a really fun day. In the evening we came back and hung out at our flat and watched a movie and had pizza. A very Sarah sort of day. I was also blessed with several phone calls form home which was especially nice. I got a great gift from Janet that I got to put together myself. It's a good thing I'm quick because it's COLD here!

One of my classes found out about my birthday and decided we should celebrate by going out for class. They also brought me some beautiful flowers. We had a great evening just hanging out and visiting, and the flowers are still looking beautiful in my flat a week later!

This past weekend we had a great trip to Prague. It was nice to be able to see other people from our team and to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. The turkey was quite amazing, and playing kick the can in a dark unfamiliar park was definitely exciting. We had a chance to do a bit of sight seeing (and some shopping!) but also had a bit of bad weather so I didn't end up with as many great pictures as I was hoping for. Still, it's pretty amazing to be able to say I just hung out in Prague for the weekend, so here are a few little glimpses into this incredible city for you all to enjoy:

My flat is now decorated for Christmas (I have a rather shocking number of window clings thanks to my wonderful sister Janet) and the weather is providing the appropriate snowy backdrop for the season. Walking to school was a bit slushy and treacherous, but I managed to make it so there is hope that I'll survive it all yet. I'm looking forward to the Christmas season and the opportunities it gives to talk about the meaning of the season in my classes. At the same time, it is also always a bit difficult to be far from family at this time of year. I was talking to Naomi last night and realized that in the past 6 years since I graduated from college I've only been home for Christmas twice. You'd think I'd be used to it by this point, but it's still hard to know all that I'm missing, so if you think of me I'd greatly appreciate knowing about it :)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A moment for thankfulness

Isn't it amazing that we have a day placed into our calendar and history to remind us to pause and be thankful? How often do I rush through life without giving a thought to all the things in the world that God has given me to be thankful for? The internet for example. What an amazing gift. With incredible ease and lightening speed I can connect with people all over the world. For that I truly am so Thankful. If only more people would get Skype I could really stay in touch with them. Of course the difference in time does add to the difficulty, but it still such a blessing to be able to live on the other side of the world and still be in contact with everyone.
Things are going well. I'll put up some new pictures soon. I managed to survive yet another birthday this past weekend, and we went to Germany for the day and had a nice time of it. Tomorrow I'm heading off to Prague to celebrate Thanksgiving with some other team members there. I'm really looking forward to having a chance to hopefully see a bit more of the city. So far all my trips there have been really short and packed with activities so that I haven't really seen much of it to speak of.
I hope all of you who read my little thoughts on life have some things to make you thankful today. Right now I'm particularly thankful that I have contacts that are functioning. I only recently received my contact solution from the US, and the past few days my right eye has been particularly frustrating whenever I wear them. I'm not sure if I have some sort of infection but I had issues with them in CA as well. I'm really hoping it will all work out because I rather enjoy being able to see.
Well, I have class in about fifteen minutes so I should go. Thanks for reading my words and for being a part of the random and transient life that I lead. May God bless you this holiday season and give you endless things to be thankful for!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm still not fond of smoking in restaurants...

I was having a nice time sitting here in bartholomeus writing things my computer and listening to one of the CD mixes I got at the retreat, and suddenly this table full of very loud smoking men sat beside me. I was literally the only person in the cafe. You'd think they could have chosen a rather more interesting place to sit than right next to me. But whatever. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? And after all, cigarettes don't kill people...oh wait a minute...hmmm...
So here was the view out my bedroom window this morning:

Yeah, that's snow again. And this time a bit more for real. I mean, it's not even my birthday yet! And already we're getting snow. Fortunately it had all melted off by the time I wanted to head out for the day. Unfortunately it had been replaced by some seriously ridiculous blowing rain. (sigh) Will I ever stop whining?
The Thanksgiving was a good, if not even vaguely relaxing, weekend. Sadly it ended all too soon. I really wanted to stick around another day, but finding housing got all difficult, so we just came home last night. The main problem with that is that it means being back to regular life already. I'm not saying I don't like where I live or anything, but I enjoy being able to have time away as well. I was really looking forward to the weekend, and now it's just over and life is back to life as usual. But that is life, so I should have expected nothing else.
The snow really was quite magnificent when we were leaving the retreat. These huge flakes started falling during breakfast that had all the kids (and some of the older people on the team)in an uproar of glee:

Even as I felt my insides cringing at the thought that soon I'd be trudging to work in the snow, I was reminded by a friend that sometimes we just have to take in the beauty of the moment, rather than worrying about what it may imply for the future. So true. So I watched the snow fall, and tried to grasp the feeling of wonder once again.
I didn't get a whole lot of sleep this weekend, which was rather unfortunate. The rooms were super cute, but the beds were REALLY hard! After the first night I made a bed out of the chairs in the room and was actually able to get about 5 hours of sleep, which was a far cry better than what had come the two nights before.
(Oh my goodness the man next to me is soooooo loud! And people say American's are bad!)

So there's my little room. I enjoyed being right under the eaves. Something about slanty roofs has always appealed to me. Okay "roofs" looks really wrong to me, but it is accepted by spell check while "rooves" is not, so it must be right.
The hotel we stayed at was nestled down nicely in "the nature." I had some nice walks in the early hours of the morning when my body had decided it was all done sleeping and yet no one else was up and about. They didn't actually open the front door until 6:30, but as soon as it was open I was out exploring. I found it rather more exciting to wander about than I did to sit through the sessions. There was some good information presented, but I tend to zone out when the topic of TEFL comes up, so it was a stretch to keep myself focused and alert.
We had some really good devotionals though. It was exciting to see the passion of other people on our team.
I feel like I'm sort of rambling around things here, so I think I'll just tack on some more photos to keep people interested.

I do have one really funny story to tell. So we were supposed to be having this really brilliant Thanksgiving dinner. The hotel had asked Kelly to provide them with recipes so they could create a dinner like a mom would make. So when we came down for dinner Thursday night and saw this:

we were all a little bit surprised.
As we were about to dig in, Kelly informed us that this was actually our appetizer...hmmmm...Apparently we were going to be served our feast at 9 that night. It was seriously one of the strangest things ever. Just seriously bizarre. The worst thing was that the food they served the next day was REALLY not my thing, where as this "appetizer" was quite nice. If only it had been lunch for the next day so I could have eaten all of it. Ah well.
Once again, one of my favorite parts of the retreat was time spent with the little ones. Isn't Andrew just too cute!

We have seven kids in our group, and they were all quite adorable. I especially had fun connecting with Jack and Andrew again. It's such a blessing to be around them.
So there are many reasons to be thankful as American Thanksgiving approaches. I do feel so blessed to be here. I still have no idea what all God has in store for me this year, but I know that there is a reason he has me in this place. While the thought of snow continues to chill me to the bone, I'm trying to remember to enjoy the beauty of small moments stolen in silence...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ready for a road trip!

Well, only one day before we head out on our adventure to Southern Czech for our Thanksgiving Retreat. I'm really looking forward to the whole experience. Oddly enough, I actually enjoy traveling. There is something so quaint about taking the trains across Europe. Reminiscent of an era long past in the US. And yet I would never consider this place anything less than modern. It just has managed to hang on to character more than the states have.
I was walking home a couple of weeks ago with a Czech guy named Ruda, and he was telling me how he used to want to visit the US but feels now as though it has lost it's magic. Somehow the allure has been smothered in Hollywood and wars. We have been covered in a mask of McDonalds and the dream of owning a big house and two cars. Sort of makes me think of my American Drama class in college and how much time we spent trying to figure out the role of the American dream in literature and life. Anyhow, this guy was talking about how Americans tend to be drawn to Europeans because they still have a deep cultural flavor. It got me to thinking about things.
While I would say that, in a lot of ways America really has become a somewhat unrealistically idealistic country, I think there is a lot more depth than people tend to give it credit for. I'm about the last person who is likely to shout "I'm proud to be American," from the rooftops, but it saddens me that I often feel the need to apologize for being an American. Our culture is FAR from perfect, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find any culture that isn't. The main problem with the US is just how public we make all of our messes. There is no sense of privacy anywhere in our nation. In our obsession for freedom, we often sacrifice our sense of decency. We have become a nation where nothing is sacred, everything is just on the surface.
The real tragedy here, is that this national sense of surface living tends to go hand in hand with Christianity. While the US shouts loudly that we are a nation that supports all minorities, the world still supposes us to be Christian. Therefore, they take the things they see and apply it to Christianity. Our fights across the globe come to be seen as crusades to spread our culture, rather than to support the downtrodden.
Wow, suddenly I'm ranting, and I really had no intention of doing so. All I was really trying to say is that I'm looking forward to seeing a bit more of the country this week. I'm looking forward to taking in this culture that I truly am fascinated by. I'm also looking forward to fellowshipping with fellow Americans. At the same time, I hold myself at a distance somehow. I'm afraid to be forced into a closed culture box.
It is my desire, and my joy, to serve God wherever He calls me. I feel so blessed that He has allowed me to take in tiny moments of the world, and do my best to look forward to the opportunities that will come in the future as well. Somehow this is coming out all twisted and convoluted, but in truth, I just want a chance to love and serve under Christ and not under my nationality. To share His love, and not cultural condemnation. After all, we're only temporarily on this planet. Why is it so hard for us to find ways to enjoy each other?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yeah, I'm posting again already!

So I'm going to see if today I can manage to get my photos to download. I'm not sure what was going on yesterday. The joy of picky internet connections! Sometimes I just have to take what I can get. Today, I'll try to get up some of the great photos we took of our students in their Halloween Ghoulery!

Okay, so I guess I'll actually begin with a picture of me, just because. I really do find it pretty handy that my normal wardrobe can so easily be turned into my Halloween costume. It was really nice to just dress up as the other side of me :)
Now for some pictures of my lovely students:

This picture shows all of our daily students that were in attendance for the Halloween Party. These students are here every day from 9 to 12:15 for a pretty intense language study time. I'm only with them on Monday and Friday. There are two groups. The first group are really beginners The second group are considered Pre-Intermediate. They actually cover a fairly wide range of levels. We have some who are really just starting out, and others who speak quite well and can understand most of the things I say.

Here is my L2 class. Back row L to R: Tomas (who is another one of our teachers), Zbynek, Ellen, Michelle, Maria, Lenka, Henry. Front Row: Martin, Tammy (teacher), me and Tomas. We have a couple students who didn't come, but this gives you a little idea of our class! They're really good fun.
Even some of my evening students were up for the festivities. I had one class bring in cookies and candy and candles and even some Halloween napkins. It's rather funny seeing as how they don't even celebrate Halloween here. Anyhow, I was amused that the women in the class came dressed in orange shirts and the men had dark shirts on. I just had to snap some photos. Then, to be even more amusing and dramatic they decided to make it look like they were really exhausted by all the work I was making them do! I promise I'm really not that heartless. Especially not on a party day!
So here we have Stonda, Tony, Myrka, and and Iveta. I must say I'm not really sure how to spell any of their names except Tony. :) Even though Czech is a very phonetic language it's still tricky to know how names work.
On Friday night we had our second pub night. I wasn't feeling well, so I ended up just sitting in a corner with these same students. I actually didn't have a whole lot of my students come, so it was nice to sit with the people I know. Besides, none of them were smoking, so it was even nicer. And they're a lot of fun. I really enjoy having chances to get to know them outside of class.
Now it's Sunday and the weekend is nearly over. I'm still trying to get over my cold. Not so much fun. But that is just the way life goes. We have a really short work week this week because we have our Thanksgiving retreat next weekend. We'll be traveling to Prague either Wednesday night or Thursday morning and then joining people there as we head down to a town I can't remember the name of. We'll be meeting with all the Central Europe team, which is about 50 people total. I'm really excited about the prospect of seeing everyone, as well as having a chance to worship together with them.
Last night we went to the youth group at our church. It was the first time we had attended and I really enjoyed it. One of our usual interpreters, Zuzka, was the speaker. She did an amazing job, reminding us that our identity is not a matter of what we do, but what we allow Christ to do in us. It really got me to thinking about how often I allow myself to find my identity in my own wanderings, rather than in Christ. When I really feel like I'm drifting, like my life has no real purpose, it is good to remember that there is someone else leading me. I still don't know all the reasons God brought me to the Czech Republic. All I know is that He is the one who led me here, and as long as I follow Him there is a point, even if it is beyond my own limited understanding.
We sang a lot of songs that we knew in English, and it was so nice to be able to let loose and praise God together with these young people. Our church tends to be a bit stiff. We sing hymns to organ music, seated stiffly in our chairs. Even when the youth lead portions of the music we remain pretty stoic. But at the youth group there was more freedom to really get into the music, rather than worrying about all the people sitting around me. I felt so blessed, as well as just enjoying actually knowing the songs :) So I'm really looking forward to the chance to sing songs in English this weekend.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Oh the photos I have to post!

So it's sorta been a while since I put up new photos. For those of you who are regular subscribers, I do apologize, but not having internet at my flat makes it rather tedious to get it done. Anyhow, I'll to my best to do a rapid sort of photo tour to keep everyone up to date.
Last weekend, I had a fabulous time in Karlovy Vary with my friends Naomi and Crystal. We took in the sites, and enjoyed the marvelous cuisine that only McDonalds can provide. Amazing how it's the little things that can really make the days brighter. At the same time, as we walk the streets of small European towns, every now and then we must remind ourselves that these very streets are quite amazing. Unlike cities on the west, few of which date back more than two hundred years, even "modern" structures here retain their ancient roots. I'm not even sure exactly what they're made of. So to remind ourselves of the pure grandeur we have to take photos of ourselves with them every now and again.

We had a lovely time wandering around the town. Naomi wasn't feeling well so she went to relax a bit while I convinced Crystal to try out a random trail with me. We made our way over moss covered rocks, our feet crunching the leaves with every step, until we came out at a small pavilion/tower. We reveled in the fact that such treasures exist at the end of trails here, and proceeded to check it out. The view from the top was particularly spectacular.

The rest of the weekend we took it pretty easy. A good thing since I ended up catching whatever it was that Naomi had. The sickness came at the beginning of a really busy week. My teammate Tammy had her birthday on Tuesday, so we went out in the evening after class. Then Wednesday was Halloween. We threw a party for our daily students, which was filled with several typical Halloween activities, as well as, naturally, Costumes!
Well, I had more pictures to put up, but for some reason blogger has decided it doesn't want to comply, so you'll just have to wait to see my lovely students in costume.